Basic Film Techniques: Match-Cut

A mach-cut is a cut between two shots which match graphically. This match establishes a sense of continuity and interconnectedness between two different spatial or temporal spheres (space and time). The matching between a shot Z and shot X tends to produce a sense of importance in the connection. The match cut is an editing technique which imbues the different spheres with a sense of metaphor or symbolic relationship. If shot Z has a violent connotation and is matched with X then the action of X will also be imbued with that violent connotation [Although a part of the continuity editing style the match cut is linked to and could be argued inspired by, the montage style and theory of parallelism].

In the beginning of the film Strangers On A Train (1951) we see two different pairs of shoes walk towards a train. The two characters’ footsteps are linked together by a match cut which indicates an inevitable meeting and connection between the two characters’ fate. Essentially the characters are walking the same “footsteps” towards a linked fate. The match cut is primarily a graphic or visual connection between two different spatial or temporal locations. The second function is metaphorical or symbolic and a tool in which to produce meaning by matching two ideas together producing a synthesis of major importance. 2001: A Space Odyssey(1968) matches the throwing of a bone to a space station. The throwing of a bone, after the use of it as a weapon, indicates a leap forward towards humanity [evolution] and a movement forward in scientific progress and the use of tools. These concepts are linked to the space station firstly as the station itself is a tool as such and an indicator of scientific progress but also in larger context of the film as the technology of the space station is a movement towards another leap in evolution: that of artificial life.

Basic Film Techniques: Elliptical Editing

There is a difference between the “natural” story time and narrative, plot or screen time. Essentially recording natural time would require filming every movement in real time. If a woman leaves her house after receiving a phone call. If this sequence was recorded in natural time it would require at least 30 minutes. This would include collecting her keys, her handbag, putting her shoes on, going to the toilet, walking to the door, opening it, locking it and walking to her destination. Instead of showing all this extended action in natural time the director can cut out all of the ‘unnecessary’ action and reduce 30 minutes into 1 minute.  A simple cut, fade or dissolve [All indicating different amounts of time passes] can facilitate the movement in natural time. Instead of the long sequence we could be shown the end of the phone call, a cut to her placing her shoes on then a cut to her walking down a highstreet into a block of flats. Three simple cuts reduce the screen time but, one logically accepts, retains natural times’ affects on the temporal environment of the screen world and the characters’ involved- in essence if it was twelve at her leaving then it should be half twelve at her arrival at the flat. This simple and basic technique allows narratives to span large spatial and temporal distances without the need to follow dull action. This editing technique could transform a boring home movie of forty minutes length watching a whale performing tricks into a snappy interesting scene of a few minutes; the manipulation of time, through elliptical editing, is central to the movement of a narrative. Elliptical editing at its most extreme can be used to make two vastly different spatial and temporal arenas collide. This technique is famously used in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey(1968), in which the spatial temporal environment of the ape is linked, or matched to give its correct term, to a space station orbiting around earth. [ A match-cut is where two spatial environments and actions are linked by a cut, however I will explore that basic film technique in another post].

Vsevolod Pudovkin’s Soviet Montage Theory

The End of St. Petersburg (1927)

Vsevolod Pudovkin’s film The End of St. Petersburg was written for the tenth anniversary of the 1917 revolution. Pudovkin’s film adheres to the formalistic conventions of Soviet cinema, particularly the use of montage. Pudovkin’s film differs slightly by concentrating on several characters and their experiences through the years leading up to, and during, the Bolshevik revolution. In Classical Hollywood cinema the heroes tend to be individuals whose sheer force of will affects change, but in Soviet cinema, due to ideological difference, the masses are seen as the force that affects change.1 The proletariat replaces the traditional individual protagonist and the bourgeoisie replace the conventional antagonist.

The formal technique of montage is important in The End of St. Petersburg for creating politicized narrative. The film builds a narrative around the proletariat’s collective spirit, constructed through several different characters – most importantly the farmer, the factory worker and his wife. Vsevolod Pudovkin called his use of montage ‘relational editing’. Pudovkin explains, in his writing about film technique, that the form of film, and the style of editing, should be an instrument of expression.2 One instrument of expression that that Vsevolod used was what he called the technique of ‘parallelism’. In The End of St. Petersburg we are shown Russian soldiers who are running over the top of a muddy trench towards their death at the hand of a German machine gun. The shot cuts to a parallel of bourgeoisie men in suits rushing up stairs to get to a stock exchange. The bourgeoisie men, instead of encountering machine gun bullets, buy the stock from a company which produces shells for the Russian government. The edit creates a parallel between two different actions and spatial environments. The parallel montage technique therefore imbues the action of buying stock, and capitalism, with the violence and murder of the battlefield scene. Another parallel is made in the same scene; as the battlefield fills up with wounded and lifeless bodies, both Russian and German, the scene cuts to the stock exchange market rate rising along with with several bourgeoisie shaking violently – as if they were themselves manning the machine guns. The excited ecstatic movement becomes a stark somber parallel when set against the bloody stalemate of the battlefield scene, through the technique of parallelism we, the audience, are made aware of the brutality of the capitalist system which makes profit in murder and the destruction of a nation’s own people.

Where as Classic Hollywood film utilizes aesthetic similarities between shots to create a sense of reality the Soviet montage method exploits aesthetic and thematic differences to produce politically charged meaning. The images in The End of St. Petersburg are left somewhat open to the viewers’ interpretation however overall we are guided psychologically, by the technique of parallelism, into accepting the political ideology of the film.3 The method of psychological guidance means Pudovkin’s relational editing system technique is an important instrument in creating a politicized narrative.

1M, Pramaggiore and T, Wallis. (ed). Film A Critical Introduction, London: Laurence King Publishing, (2007) p. 225.

2Vsevolod Pudovkin ‘Film Technique’ in Gerald Mast & Marshall Cohen (ed), Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, 2nd Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, (1979) pp. 77-84 p.82.

3Pudovkin ‘Film Technique’ pp. 82-84